Housing, Homelessness and Poverty
The School of Public Policy Publications, Volume 11:29, November 2018
10 Pages Posted: 27 Nov 2018
Date Written: November 1, 2018
In 2014, an estimated 137,000 people, or about one in 208 Canadians aged 18 or older, stayed in an emergency homeless shelter. While addictions and mental illness can contribute to homelessness, evidence suggests that the majority of people who resort to using homeless shelters do so because they are poor. Public policies that reduce the cost of housing for those with low income would reduce these numbers and reduce the number of Canadians who annually experience the debilitating effects of homelessness.
A high proportion of rent-to-income is a key contributor to homelessness. People who find that rent eats up so much of their income that they can’t afford other necessities will often try their luck doubling up with relatives or friends or temporarily using a city’s shelter system. Anything that influences the rent-to-income ratio – from income support programs, to tax policies affecting the costs of new construction and the costs of maintaining or rehabilitating old buildings, to zoning and density restrictions – will therefore have a significant influence on the rate of homelessness. Recognizing this opens a wide range of policy options and exposes all levels of government to the responsibility for initiating useful policy reforms.
Modest efforts to increase housing affordability via rent subsidies and enhanced income support have the advantage over the construction of public housing of maximizing choice and flexibility for those to whom assistance is provided. If the great majority of people experiencing homelessness do so because of poverty, it may be best to address that issue directly with increased levels of income support.
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